A Day of Lament

Heavenly Father, I was invited by Sojourners to participate with other people of faith in a National Day of Mourning and Lament to remember the lives of the 100,000 Americans who have died due to COVID-19. For the past few months, nearly every day, I have seen graphs and statistics showing the exponential spread of the virus. This virus has been truly devastating. It grieves me but another crisis grieves me more.

Lord, The New York Times honored the lives of thousands of coronavirus victims by printing their names on the front page, a tribute that powerfully illustrated that there was a life worth saving behind every number. Lord, You knew every one of the decedents by name. Please comfort those who knew and loved them. Every lost life matters.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy on us.

In the past week, news of the pandemic has been replaced with news of protests of the death of George Floyd, another black man whose life was taken for no reason. The sickness of racism has taken the lives and devalued the lives of people of color for far too long, from the abhorrent days of slavery to the hard-fought days of the civil rights movement to the we-should-know-better-by-now present.

The names of black men and women and children who lost their lives to the knee-jerk reactions of racism are written in our memories and our collective conscience – Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor. Lord, You knew everyone of these victims by name.

God, this country is in crisis. I lament the senseless loss of life. I lament the violence. I lament racism. I lament injustice.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy on us.

Lord, I grieve for black parents who have to have “the talk” with their children, telling them that they must fear police officers. And Lord, I pray for the majority of police officers who serve honorably. Protect them and help them to make a positive difference in the communities they serve.

Jesus, my heart breaks for the message black Americans are hearing. One of my favorite columnists, Eugene Robinson, wrote a piece titled, Black lives remain expendable. As a black man, he was angry and rightly so. “Stop treating African Americans like human trash and start treating us like citizens.” Black lives are not expendable. Lord, I pray that every white American will start treating every African American as a human being. I pray that we will start treating every black person as if they matter. They do matter.

Lord, I can’t get these words out of my head: I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Sir, I can’t breathe. The words of a man who wanted to live. The words of a father. The words of a brother. The words of a son calling out for his mama in the last moments of his life. He did not deserve to die.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, grant us peace.

Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer. Amen.

A Prayer for Renewal

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:30-31

Heavenly Father, thank you for this week off from work. I nearly reached my breaking point this month. I asked for help over and over again and didn’t get it. I was ready to quit. It was like the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Lord, the last six months have been stressful. My dad died. A few days later, we moved to another state. In my haste to get back to work, I buried my grief. I went through another busy season at work. And just when things were looking brighter, the world was rocked by a pandemic. All of this has taken a toll on me.

Lord, You are always with me. You are my rock and my refuge. Renew my strength during this week of rest. I want to run and not grow weary. I want to walk and not be faint. But mostly, I want to be my normal helpful self, not a person who resents people for expecting too much of me.

God, grant me the serenity to live one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will.

Amen

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Photo by Lars Kuczynski on Unsplash

A Prayer for Serenity

Several years ago, I bought pictures of seashells for a bathroom we remodeled in a seafoam color that reminds me of the ocean. One of the pictures has the word Serenity on it and the other has the word Peaceful. There is nothing more serene to my land-locked mind than a rare, blissful walk on the beach. Yet in my perfectionist mind, the noun Serenity and adjective Peaceful don’t go together. I wish the artist had used the words Serenity and Peace or Serene and Peaceful. Oh, how I pray for serenity, that blessed state of being at peace and untroubled when things aren’t the way I want them to be.

I know the first four lines of The Serenity Prayer by heart. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. The first part of the prayer encourages people like me to change the things we can control and to accept the things we can’t. But there is much more to The Serenity Prayer than the lines I’ve memorized.

Living one day at a time; 

enjoying one moment at a time; 

accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.

God grant me the serenity to live one day at a time. Is this not a perfect prayer for times such as these? Our lives have been disrupted by a pandemic. Many of us are living under stay-at-home orders, perhaps working remotely, keeping a safe six feet distance from other people, and wearing masks in public. Millions of people have been infected already and the death toll rises daily. Millions of people have lost their jobs and face financial hardship.

I have to admit that I am a natural born worrier. Instead of living for today, I anticipate and worry about the challenges I will face tomorrow. And I pin my hopes on something in the future (my retirement). But there is no point in living my life for tomorrow. As Jesus said, each day has enough trouble of its own.

Even in difficult times, there are moments of joy – moments that should be treasured. These moments of joy are the spice of life. During the pandemic, I have been enjoying my quiet time in the morning with a cup of coffee before I head to the gym or my home office. I’ve even taken up watching and listening to the birds in my backyard.

The one thing I disagree with in Reinhold Niebuhr’s Prayer of Serenity is the idea that we should accept hardships as a pathway to peace. I believe that hardships and struggles and failure are a pathway to character. Salvation is the pathway to peace. I have been justified by faith. I have peace with God through my Lord Jesus Christ. I am not afraid of anything that can kill my body because it cannot kill my soul. If I lose my life, I can say, it is well, it is well with my soul.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.

Romans 5:1-4

The last part of The Serenity Prayer is: taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will. This part of The Serenity prayer points to a path to spiritual growth. Jesus took the sinful world as it is. He loved sinners just as they are. But he did not accept the sinful world as it is; he came to change the world and to testify to the truth.

There is love in accepting the world as it is. There is serenity in knowing that in the end, God will make all things right.

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A Prayer of Serenity

God, grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time,

enjoying one moment at a time;

accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;

taking, as Jesus did,

this sinful world as it is,

not as I would have it;

trusting that You will make all things right

if I surrender to Your will;

so that I may be reasonably happy in this life

and supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

Reinhold Niebuhr

Imagine a man

Imagine a man whose heart is far from God. He puts many gods before the one true God but the god who has a real hold on his heart is the god known as Self. The one true God is higher than any other god. He alone is all powerful and all knowing. He alone is worthy of all honor and praise. The one true God is the God of love and the source of all that is good. The man whose heart is far from God follows a god of hate. His god brings forth that which is evil.

The man whose heart is far from God expends an extraordinary amount of energy elevating the god of Self – boasting about how smart he is, how wealthy he is, how powerful he is. He exalts himself over everyone and everything. He knows more about any subject than anyone else. In his own eyes, no one is greater in all the earth. He never admits failure, never confesses a wrong, never acknowledges weakness or self-doubt. When he is not elevating the god of Self, he busies himself tearing down his enemies – anyone who makes the god of Self look bad. His greatest enemy is the truth and he fights the truth with a vengeance.

Imagine Narcissis gazing adoringly at Self in the mirror. Self-aggrandizement. Self-adulation. Self-importance. Self-indulgence. For the man whose heart is far from God, it is all about Self.

The man whose god is Self is a master manipulator, a master of deception, a conman. He belongs to his Father, the devil, the father of lies. He carries out his father’s desires. There is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language.

No man is perfect. We all sin. We all fall short of the glory of God. None of us knows everything. We all fail. We all stumble. But the man whose god is the god of Self will never admit this. He will never repent. He lives in a world of make believe, a world of fantasy and unreality. When he looks in the mirror he sees a distorted version of himself.

His most consequential lie is a powerful self-delusion. The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” He tells himself, if there is a god, I can deceive him just as I deceive people.

The man who worships the god of Self surrounds himself with oleaginous sycophants, toadies, boot lickers. They see his nakedness but pretend that the emperor wears the finest clothes. Convinced that the ends justify the means, they flatter and praise him to stay in his good graces and to trade on his influence.

The man who is his own god believes he is above the law. Many men have tried and failed to hold him to account. The truth is, every man will have to account to God for every wicked act, every careless word. Imagine the day when the man who has spent his life worshiping Self finally faces his Maker. He will not get away with lying to the Father of truth. He will not impress the omnipotent, omniscient God with his wealth, power or intelligence. He will not escape God’s judgment by deflecting and blaming others.

The man whose heart is far from God is not a figment of my imagination. He is real. He is an old man but there is a childlike quality about him. There is something sad and pathetic about his constant need for adulation. He is rich in material wealth but morally bankrupt. He is seemingly successful and yet a colossal failure. He is a powerful liar but he cannot change the truth. He presents himself as a savior but he cannot save his own soul.

I had a dream about this man a couple of months ago. I said one word to him. Repent. The man whose heart is far from God is not beyond God’s redemption. I pray that he will be humbled before the one true God before it is too late.

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By John William Waterhouse – http://www.allartpainting.com/echo-and-narcissus-p-16444.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7716057

A Prayer for My Country

Father, I have been struggling to put the prayer of my heart into words. As much as I want to believe that this country can be united by a shared interest in slowing the spread of the coronavirus, it is wishful thinking. Many people resent restrictions on their freedom even if the purpose is to protect the safety and well being of all of us. People are understandably worried about the survival of small businesses. People understandably want things to get back to normal. People are understandably tired of staying home.

I want to pray for unity but I am a realist. This country has been divided for years. Divided by ideology, divided by an “us versus them” mentality. The same issues and mindsets that divided us before this pandemic divide us now. The other side is still the enemy.

Lord, you told Isaiah to go and tell the people,
‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
Make the hearts of this people calloused;
deafen their ears and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.

Father, I have no illusions that this is a Christian nation. It is a nation with millions of Christians who worship you in Spirit and in truth and millions who are Christian in name only. A vast majority has turned its back to You. They have other gods before You. The hearts of this nation are calloused. Otherwise, they might hear with their ears and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.

Lord, before there can be unity, there must be healing of hearts. I pray that You will use this pandemic to turn people to You. Help the people of this nation to see the truth with their eyes, to hear the truth with their ears, and to understand with their hearts.

Amen.

Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash